Some Questions Don’t Need an Answer

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S (Scripture): Job 38:1 Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:

Who is this darkening counsel

    with words lacking knowledge?

Prepare yourself like a man;

    I will interrogate you, and you will respond to me.

The establishing of order

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?

    Tell me if you know.

Who set its measurements? Surely you know.

    Who stretched a measuring tape on it?

32 

Can you guide the stars

at their proper times,

    lead the Bear with her cubs?

33 

Do you know heaven’s laws,

    or can you impose its rule on earth?

34 

Can you issue an order to the clouds

    so their abundant waters cover you?

O (Observation): WOW! God isn’t mixing words here. God has silently listened to Job’s complaints over what he’s lost and how righteous he is. God silently listened while Job’s “friends” try to convince Job that he must have done something wrong and God is punishing him for it.

In the end, here, God isn’t defensive…rather, God is angry that both Job and his friends are complaining like they have absolute wisdom and power. They don’t!

Who formed the earth and all that is in it!? God!

Who is all-knowing!? God!

Not Job. Not Job’s friends.

A (Application): How often do we think we have discipleship and being a follower of God all figured out? How often do we use logic to answer questions of faith and discipleship?

So much of what we go through in life, we feel like we need to label it as a result of something we or someone else or God “did.” Like we need an answer for everything.

In science, I can understand the desire and drive for answers. But for faith, we must sometimes let the reason “why?” sort of just remain unanswered and be content with our situation. Perhaps a reason or thought will come. Ok. But don’t try to tear down heaven and earth to find the answer.

Sometimes the silent mystery is just fine. Sometimes the answer to “why?” is a tension to be managed, rather than a problem to be solved.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to just let some questions remain unanswered. Amen.

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Where is God in the Good & Bad?

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S (Scripture): Job 4:4 

Your words have raised up the falling;

    you’ve steadied failing knees.

But now it comes to you, and you are dismayed;

    it has struck you, and you are frightened.

Isn’t your religion the source of your confidence;

    the integrity of your conduct, the source of your hope?

Think! What innocent person has ever perished?

    When have those who do the right thing been destroyed?

As I’ve observed, those who plow sin

    and sow trouble will harvest it.

When God breathes deeply, they perish;

    by a breath of his nostril they are annihilated.

O (Observation): Eliphaz is one of Job’s friends. He is trying to speak from a perspective of logic to help explain to Job the reason for what is going on. At this point, Job’s livestock and family have been killed. Job himself has had boils / lesions all over his body. Job is in mourning.

Eliphaz reminds Job that Job’s faith has been a witness to many who have suffered loss. And yet, Eliphaz is confused to see that Job has not taken on his own council for himself.

To explain things, Eliphaz conflates some ideas in a less than helpful manner. He thinks bad things only happen to sinners. He can’t see bad things happening to good people. Job is good. But bad things around him have happened. Therefore (according to Eliphaz) something bad must have been going on.

A (Application): Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to bad people. We see it all the time. And we get upset or jealous.

We think God should reward us for the good we do, and correct us when we do bad. This is kind of how most of us raise our kids. Reward the good. Punish the bad.

Perhaps we can think in this way: God doesn’t tempt or taunt or expose us. God meets us where we are and doesn’t control us or our actions. Instead, God gives us grace and the space to do what we will with that grace.

Sometimes that grace is exactly what we will need when our world comes crashing down around us. And when we have something go right in our lives, we can rejoice in that moment.

P (Prayer): God, help us to sense your presence in our lives in the good and the bad. Amen.

When the Paycheck Doesn’t Come

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S (Scripture): Psalm 89

46

How long will it last, Lord?

Will you hide yourself forever?

How long will your wrath burn like fire?

47

Remember how short my life is!

Have you created humans for no good reason?

48

Who lives their life without seeing death?

Who is ever rescued from the grip of the grave?Selah

49

Where now are your loving acts

from long ago, my Lord—

the same ones you promised to David

by your own faithfulness?

50

Remember your servant’s abuse, my Lord!

Remember how I bear in my heart

all the insults of the nations,

51

the ones your enemies, Lord, use—

the ones they use to abuse

every step your anointed one takes.

52

Bless the Lord forever!

Amen and Amen!

O (Observation): Well…things don’t seem to be going so well for this psalmist. Like the world’s falling apart around him or her. This one seems troubled, as if the world is crashing down around them. And this trouble is about being conquered by a neighboring nation.

I almost hear an assumption that a life in God is meant to be without suffering or pain…and yet, here is pain and suffering.

A (Application): Juggling with work or purpose can tear us apart. If we are working, and we can’t quite find what we need…we can feel the weight, the burdens of this life. Pressure. Steady, unrelenting pressure.

We must produce! That is the mantra we Americans live by. We show our worth by what we produce in the next paycheck.

Yet, when the paycheck doesn’t come. When the child gets sick. When the parent’s dementia worsens. When we lose a loved one. We can feel defeated…just as the psalmist feels defeated.

Because we can’t see God through the pain and suffering.

But in those moments – however great or small – realize this: God is with you. God is not causing the pain or suffering, but God is with you.

God is with you through inspirational moments – like a ray of light shining through the clouds. Like a thought that inspires you to try something new. Like a new relationship that will guide you into a new connection for potential employment. Like a friend who knows a friend who has a job opening. Like a choppy sea that has been calmed.

We can and we will doubt along the way, but God will not doubt. Nor will God leave you. Even in the midst of your great pain. Allow God to bear the pain with you. And your burden will be light.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to see you. Help us to reach out our hands and welcome the gifts that you bring us: time, grace, vision. Surround us with your peace. Amen.

Theology of Work


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S (Scripture): Ecclesiastes 5:13 There is a grievous ill that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owners to their hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture; though they are parents of children, they have nothing in their hands. 15 As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. 16 This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have from toiling for the wind? 17 Besides, all their days they eat in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and resentment.

18 This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot. 19 Likewise all to whom God gives wealth and possessions and whom he enables to enjoy them, and to accept their lot and find enjoyment in their toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For they will scarcely brood over the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with the joy of their hearts.

O (Observation):  Solomon has seen what wealth can do to a person.  Wealth can turn a person inward, caring only for himself or herself.   To what end?   To a cold and lonely end.    When a rich person dies, that person cannot take their earthly goods with them.   Toiling is not bad…but if one toils to gain more things…one does so in vain.  

But Solomon gives us another view of toil: joy in contentment.   Brooding over the work gains nothing.   Instead, find the work God has called each to do, and in that, find joy!

A (Application): I continue to be amazed at our capitalistic society in the US and the growing discontent we have in our lives.   The gadgets and gizmos and vacations we all desire can drive us away from contentment and towards a poor view of our work:  work = money for stuff.   

The joy of work gives us purpose and a way to contribute to society.   The wonderful part of capitalism is the opportunity to explore any of your callings and to seek to be paid for it.   However, the downfall of capitalism is that those who cannot work, or those who cannot see work as something to be enjoyed decide that they don’t fit in, and thus, end up on the streets or living off of handouts.  

I pray that everyone find the inherent dignity in all of humanity.   I pray that everyone find the calling God has instilled in them.  I pray that we are all compassionate enough help those whose work does not allow them enough pay to live on their own.   

I pray that we all enjoy our work for the sake of bringing God glory!

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to be thankful and grateful for our callings in this world!  Amen.

The Only Response to God: “I repent!”

dust

S (Scripture): Job 42:1 Then Job answered the Lord: 2 “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted;…3b I have declared without understanding things too wonderful for me to know.

4 You said, ‘Pay attention, and I will speak; I will question you, and you will answer me.’

5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye has seen you.

6 Therefore I despise myself, and I repent in dust and ashes!”

O (Observation):  Job has come to the conclusion of his trials before God.  He never blasphemed God, but he did assume wisdom beyond that of God.   Job thought he knew best, but God’s last couple of points about the weather and the Leviathan being beyond Job’s comprehension were enough to cause Job to come to one conclusion:  “I repent in dust and ashes!”

 

Job has sensed that he truly encountered God in this experience.  He’s heard about God…but he doesn’t think he’s ever heard from God directly.  Now he has.  He has now “seen” God (that is, he has “encountered” God).

A (Application):   Job’s response is the only possible response when in an encounter with God.   Nothing we say or do can ever please God in and of itself.  All that we do is tainted with a bit of sin.   But we act boldly, anyway, trusting that our Lord will guide all things together for those who trust in the Lord.

We can be as righteous as Job, but that still doesn’t make us worthy of God’s love.  Instead, God’s very nature is mercy and love.  And so, we come, humbly, into our encounters with God, trusting that God will pick us up from dust and ashes in which we repent, in order to wash us clean, fill us with the Spirit, and send us out to make disciples.

…but it all starts with the only response possible:  “I repent in dust and ashes…”

P (Prayer):  Lord, give us repentant hearts…and pick us up from the dust and ashes.  Amen.

The Opposite of Faith is…

Certainty-is-overrated

S (Scripture): Job 37
14 “Pay attention to this, Job!
Stand still and consider the wonders God works.
15 Do you know how God commands them,
how he makes lightning flash in his storm cloud?
16 Do you know about the balancing of the clouds,
that wondrous activity of him who is perfect in knowledge?
17 You, whose garments are hot
when the earth is still because of the south wind,
18 will you, with him, spread out the clouds,
solid as a mirror of molten metal?
19 Tell us what we should say to him.
We cannot prepare a case
because of the darkness.
20 Should he be informed that I want to speak?
If a man speaks, surely he would be swallowed up!
21 But now, the sun cannot be looked at –
it is bright in the skies –
after a wind passed and swept the clouds away.
22 From the north he comes in golden splendor;
around God is awesome majesty.
23 As for the Almighty, we cannot attain to him!
He is great in power,
but justice and abundant righteousness he does not oppress.”

O (Observation): Elihu is wrapping up his speech to Job.  He wants to convey the vastness of God’s immensity…of God’s awe-inducing magnificence.   God’s dominion is all-encompassing, and as such, Elihu wants to know if ANYONE should feel like they have the ability to wrestle with God.

Elihu points to the vastness of creation for an example of humanity’s powerlessness compared to the forces of nature.   We cannot control clouds or lightning.   We cannot look into the sun.

And as much as God is more powerful than us, God still seeks justice and righteousness.  God does not oppress justice and righteousness.

A (Application):  Even if the winds don’t seem to be blowing our way, God is on the side of justice.   Even if the sun seems to be a burden on us, God is still on the side of righteousness.

We try to understand why all things happen.   We want certainty…Job wants certainty…and who could blame him?  So many things went wrong for no apparent reason.

Paul Tillich said (in his “Dynamics of Faith”) that “the opposite of faith is not doubt…the opposite of faith is certainty.”   Certainty means that no risk is involved.   Certainty leaves no room for faith.   And faith is all we have when it comes to believing in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God.

With faith, we become vulnerable to being let down, being hurt, being disappointed…  But with faith, we also have the possibility of a new day, a new hope.

Even though things may be difficult, faith (instilled in you by the Holy Spirit) still allows us to be surprised by hope.  Elihu is trying to give Job hope.

P (Prayer):  Lord, fill us with faith, even though we crave certainty.  Amen.

 

Signs of Hope

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S (Scripture): Job 34

10 “Therefore, listen to me, you men of understanding.
Far be it from God to do wickedness,
from the Almighty to do evil.

11 For he repays a person for his work,
and according to the conduct of a person,
he causes the consequences to find him.

12 Indeed, in truth, God does not act wickedly,
and the Almighty does not pervert justice.”

O (Observation): Job’s friend, Elihu, is speaking.   Elihu is making it clear that he believes God to be just, righteous, regardless of what has happened to Job.   Job has been wondering if God is really just…since Job has been struck with calamity.

Elihu confirms that God does not commit acts of wickedness or evil.  People who commit evil acts do experience the consequences of their actions, their separation from God…though that punishment is never instigated by God.  God would not purposely cause harm to anyone.

A (Application):  A loved one is sick.   You’re a good person, but you’re late to EVERYTHING!   You get a flat tire on your way to work.   These are not punishments from God.   God is not “out to get you.”   At least not as far as I’m concerned.

We live in a broken world…a world in need of redemption.   That includes the likes of you and me.  We are less than perfect, but we are not subject to “getting what we deserve.”  Evil and wickedness just exist in the midst of the brokenness of this world.

Jesus’ resurrection has begun the process of redemption and will come to full fruition when Jesus comes again to judge the world in righteousness.   In the meantime, we catch glimpses of the Kingdom breaking into our world, in our time.

If you find yourself falling in line with Job’s ever-growing pessimism, think on Elihu’s words…and think on the bright spots of God’s inbreaking Kingdom, like the stars that shine forth in the night sky.

Look for people sharing God’s love with their neighbor.  Look for someone picking up trash.  Look for someone paying for someone else’s groceries, which I happened to see just the other day.

And if you cannot find a glimpse of God’s goodness breaking into our world, invite others to point out the way for you.

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to see the signs of your inbreaking Kingdom.  Amen.